By Mark Scott
The most outstanding attribute of God is love (1 John 4:8). The greatest commandment is to love God (Mark 12:30). The second greatest commandment is to love one’s neighbor (v. 31). The first listed fruit of the Holy Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22). All the commandments of God are swallowed up in love. This is why loves fulfills the law.
We come to the end of our time in Romans with a lesson from this practical section where love is mentioned in every chapter (Romans 12–16). Love is to be sincere and causes devotion to one another (12:9, 10). Love fulfills the law and does no harm to one’s neighbor (13:8, 10). Love means caring about a fellow believer’s conscience (14:15). Paul appealed to the church in Rome to strive with him in prayer by the love of the Spirit (15:30). Finally Paul mentioned Epaenetus and Stachys as “beloved” (16:5, 9, English Standard Version).
Paul turned the corner to this practical section of Romans by using an appropriate transitional phrase. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy. Therefore connects the dots from the doctrinal to the duty section. I urge you indicates the passion Paul had for the obedience of faith. In view of God’s mercy summarizes the plan of God from chapters 1–11.
One way we love God is to offer (stand before) ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. Of course that phrase is an oxymoron. A sacrifice is killed before being offered. The language of this offering being holy and pleasing to the Lord is also rich in Old Testament imagery. When we do this we show our true and proper worship (which really should be translated “reasonable liturgy” or “reasonable service”).
In many ways all the offerings of the Old Testament rolled back sins until the sacrifice of Christ on the cross removed them (Hebrews 10:3, 4). Jesus was the real temple of God and extends that presence of God to us in the new covenant. So when we offer our lives and praises to God (Hebrews 13:15), in essence we are offering ourselves as Jesus offered himself.
Transform Your Mind
The Old Testament was against impure offerings. The same is true for believers offering themselves to God. If we are to offer our best, then it will be that of a transformed mind. The world wants us to conform. God wants us to be transformed. The word transform is so important—not because of the number of times it appears (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18)—but in its significance. It pictures the literal changing of our form from the inside out.
The means by which this transformation takes place is the renewing of the mind. While this does have to do with our cognition, it also embraces our volition. As goes the brain, so goes the behavior. This makes us very discerning. We can test (put to the test with the view to passing the test) things in life to see if they match the will of God, which is described as morally good, well pleasing, and mature or complete.
Offering ourselves to God and being transformed are means of loving him. If we do those two things, then we are more able to love others. Paul moved from obeying the authorities, a very specific arena, to loving everyone. Paul framed it up with a financial metaphor—debt.
How literal we are to understand remaining debt free is debatable. But not up for debate is the debt of loving others. Twice in this brief paragraph Paul said that when we love others we automatically fulfill all the demands of the law. He drilled down into specifics by mentioning four of the Ten Commandments from the latter half of the Decalogue (adultery, murder, stealing, and coveting) and added a generic phrase (and whatever other command there may be) to be as encompassing as possible. To this he added a phrase from the code of holiness (Leviticus 19:18) as well as a reminder that love does no harm (bad things) to a neighbor.
When the Living Bible came out years ago, one edition of it was entitled From God with Love. When that is embraced one can really follow Augustine’s advice, “Love God and do as you please.”
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.